Autobahn (Apple II) review
"The goal is to drive down the Autobahn, that famous French freeway with no speed limit and people who like to drive as fast as their cars will move. Other than yourself, though, there arenít a lot of people who have the sort of engine to take advantage of the environment. So you take it upon yourself to weave through traffic like a soccer mom on the way to the game in her husbandís SUV. Aside from a few minor details, Iíve just described the whole game."
Back in what I often like to call Ďthe good old days,í a game wasnít about finding a billion magical artifacts to open a door to the next level, nor was it about jacking cars and shooting law enforcement officials. It wasnít even about stomping on mushrooms. At least, not in the really old days. It was about reflexes, pure and simple. Nothing else would get you anywhere, because there just werenít any options. You either had skills or you didnít. Games didnít cater to wimps.
Enter Autobahn. Developed by Nasir in 1981 and released by Sirius Software, this game is twitch-oriented in every possible sense. The goal is to drive down the Autobahn, that famous French freeway with no speed limit and people who like to drive as fast as their cars will move. Other than yourself, though, there arenít a lot of people who have the sort of engine to take advantage of the environment. So you take it upon yourself to weave through traffic like a soccer mom on the way to the game in her husbandís SUV. Aside from a few minor details, Iíve just described the whole game.
But letís talk about the details, shall we? When you begin a game, youíll find yourself looking down from above as your car zips forward. It stays at a position just shy of the screenís vertical halfway mark. The cars youíre passing slide onto the screen from above, and about the only thing you can do is move left or right to avoid them with the appropriate directional key. Youíll also need to use the space bar to straighten the wheel after a quick dodge, or youíll fall into a perpetual state of weaving thatís likely to make your car fly into someone from the side. Your vertical view is actually quite pathetic, and you have only milliseconds to react when youíre about to collide with a car. If youíre thinking too hard, youíre going to crash faster than if youíre just reacting, which is why I said the game is just about reflexes.
If things are moving too fast, you can switch between three gears by pressing the number on your keyboard that corresponds to the one you wish to use. First gear moves you along at a speed of 120, second at 160, and third at 200. The change from one to another is instantaneous. Thereís no slow acceleration, just an immediate increase in the rate at which you pass other drivers. In a way, this is the difficulty selector, but you can change it on the fly. Unfortunately, thereís no apparent reward for being a speed demon, aside from the adrenaline rush. That rush is negated by the fact that your range of view is so bad you canít possibly enjoy yourself just mashing buttons and hoping you get lucky enough to keep going down the road. Even first gear feels chaotic.
So, why should you keep playing the game at all if itís mostly just about pressing left and right to weave through traffic? There are several reasons. Unfortunately, the game presents each of them, then tramples on them until they hardly matter.
One reason is the odometer. You have three cars to drive, and thereís no opportunity to earn additional ones. First is the one that appears on the road when you begin a new game, then the two replacements you bring out of the garage after each crash. Your odometer continues climbing with each vehicle, so itís fun to see how high you can get it before you lose all your rides. Unfortunately, thereís no way to save the high score. In fact, it wipes itself out each time you play, even if you havenít removed the disc. The only thing you can do is compare yourself to your immediately previous race. Suppose on your first attempt, you drive 16 miles, then 13 on the next. As you play the third game, youíll see the high score of 13, even though you know youíve done better. Itís rather disheartening.
Another reason to keep going is that the game does throw in some new hazards. The favorite trick is the make the road narrower so that you have less room to maneuver (touching the right or left shoulder slows you down and drags you toward the bottom of the screen, which will cost you a car if you let it go on for long). The game also is fond of throwing pink puddles at you. They donít harm your car, but they come so fast that you may dodge out of their way and straight into someoneís bumper if youíre not focusing. Other hazards are cheaper. Around the 10-kilometer mark, assuming youíve made it that far on your first attempt, a vehicle will speed toward you from the rear. Even more devious are the tunnels, where your range of vision is reduced to just a small triangle of light. And if you survive all that, the road will narrow ridiculously around the 18-kilometer point, so that dodges have to be more calculated than ever.
Still, thereís a certain charm to the game. A lot of that no doubt comes from the visuals and sound.
Graphically, the game uses only a few colors, yet it manages to look really vibrant. It also moves quickly, with no slowdown even when there are four or five cars on the screen at once. The shoulders of the road are represented by bars that fly by like colored toothpicks, and the tunnel really looks like a tunnel when all you can see is your beam of light.
In the sound department, thereís not a single song to listen to, but sound effects are actually quite impressive. The car buzzes along at a nice clip, and the motor sound changes slightly as the road widens or narrows. Pass through the tunnel and the drone changes tone entirely until youíve reached the exit, an impressive effect indeed. Only the crash sound (which youíll hear rather often at first) seems out of place. Itís almost impossible to describe, but trust me when I say it doesnít sound much like a crash.
When all is said and done, Autobahn is rather hard to judge. Itís certainly more of a game than many of its time, and it looks and sounds great. Unfortunately, stellar presentation in 1981 is nothing compared to what you can find now on the newest of systems. The only reward it has left to offer is the grin that appears on your face when you top 20 kilometers on the odometer, or when you make it through the tunnel without crashing. If thatís enough for you, give the game a try. Otherwise, youíll do best to avoid it.
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Staff review by Jason Venter (June 14, 2004)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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